Editorial: The Radical Notion

Credit where it’s due: the Scotsman has offered some high-quality coverage of the build-up to today’s Radical Independence Conference. In today’s paper, Gregor Gall offers an intelligent analysis of the challenges and opportunities facing the Conference and the participating groups and individuals. Yesterday, George Kerevan published a mini-manifesto of his “radical” ideas for an independent nation, many of which are worth careful consideration.

And yet both, in their own way, don’t seem to fully grasp the ambitions of the movement – partly in Gall’s explicit refusal to classify it as a “movement”. This refusal might stem in part from his belief that the conference’s participants are:

…[T]hose who argue that without laying out a convincing alternative of an economically and socially just Scotland, there is no way that sufficient numbers of citizens can be convinced to vote “yes”. Ergo, there will be no independent Scotland because the scare tactics of the “no” campaign 
will win out.

In deliberately defining it as “not a movement,” Gall implies that the Radical Independence Conference is little more than an embryonic campaign organisation, and makes clear his belief that radical independence is seen primarily as a strategy: something developed and propagated with the central goal of winning votes. While convincing the electorate to vote for a radical vision is clearly an essential part of putting it into practice, we think that radical independence is much more than a campaign innovation.

Consider Kerevan’s article: his mini-manifesto for independence contains a couple of ideas with radical potential, but the first 10 of the 11 he offers seem to be decidedly moderate reforms of the social democratic vareity: public banking, measures to ensure people and organisations pay their taxes, higher inheritance tax, carbon tax, better funding for education – even the profoundly conservative idea of national service is proposed as a solution to class divides. Kerevan argues that these are “pragmatic” ideas that a “genuinely radical left-winger” might put forward, but centralisation, mildly redistributive or prohibitive taxation, and conformity dressed up as “solidarity” appear to be the recurrent themes. While social democracy is laudable to some extent, it remains a philosophy of fundamental conservatism – operating within existing political and economic structures and attempting to bend them into a more attractive shape without breaking them. This is not radical, nor is it consistent with the logic of independence. If there is any single notion underlying the desire to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom, it is the idea that some things are simply unreformable.

The word “radical” is derived from the Latin word “radix”, meaning “root”. Radicalism, then, can perhaps be defined as the belief that a particular problem is the result of corrupt structural foundations. Rather than simply pruning or redirecting the growth of whatever emerges from those roots, one must remove or replace them entirely in order to solve that problem. Radical independence is the belief that the most offensive and dehumanising problems of the United Kingdom – rising inequality, militarism, social alienation, political disengagement, environmental destruction – cannot be tackled within the existing institutional and political structure. To begin to reverse those failures, the structure must be dissolved and replaced with something new.

This is not to say that independence is an inherently better state of affairs; it’s simply an alternative state of affairs. To make independence a truly radical endeavour, Scotland has to do more than simply vote Yes and wait breathlessly for the magic. This is where Gall’s analysis falls short – the thing that makes Radical Independence a movement is its commitment to a vision that extends far beyond the basic parameters of a political campaign. In the radical’s mind, the genesis of an independent Scottish state is not the end of a process of change – it’s the start. From there, we can begin to create the “other Scotland” that we believe is possible. We’d rather not find ourselves emerging from 2014 as an independent nation that retains a monarchy, remains committed to a nuclear alliance and is increasingly beholden to the multinational corporations that pledged support in exchange for tax cuts. First, we need to persuade the Scottish people that we’re faced with radical problems that require radical solutions; then, and only then, can the enormous transformative potential of an independent Scotland be realised. Contrary to what Gall argues, Radical Independence is more than the belief that an independence campaign fought on a moderate or small-c conservative platform will lose – it is the belief that even if it wins, it won’t be enough.

National Collective’s Michael Gray will be on the panel of the Radical Independence Conference workshop “A Scottish Utopia? The Role of Art and Culture in Changing Society” between 11.45 and 13.15. 

Guest Editorials: The Collective Imagination 

National Collective are delighted to announce our new series of Guest Editorials: every month, we’re picking one of our favourite figures in the independence movement to write an exclusive piece for us on an independence-related subject of their choice. If all goes to plan (as it so often does in politics…), we’ll be publishing the collected editorials in a beautifully illustrated limited edition booklet shortly before the referendum. Our first editorial, by writer, thinker and all-round good guy Gerry Hassan, will be published in December.